I have begun composing a mental list of items that should be banned from auditoriums. The list includes snores (if you have any in you, have a coffee before the performance), cell phones that the owner/operator is not in full control of vis-a-vis the off button, people with large heads who sit in front of me, and as of last night, large plastic bags. There was a woman sitting behind me last night who wanted something out of a plastic bag. She wanted it during Act III, during “dove sono.” It began as a series of covert little rustles during the first section of the aria. At first I thought someone was attempting to unwrap a sandwich, but it wasn’t a saran-wrap type rustle; it was one of those stiff plastic bags that produce something closer to a rattle than a rustle when one goes fishing around inside them. The rustler seemed to be under the impression that the combined forces of Amanda Majeski’s voice and the Met orchestra were sufficient to cover the sound, but in this she was mistaken. Majeski has a nice solid voice; the Met orchestra is no slouch in terms of sound production – but there is a reason we do not rustle around in plastic sacks during opera performances. The reason is that it MAKES NOISE. ANNOYING NOISE. The rustler continued well into the softer repeat section of the aria before the end and my god, I rarely turn around and glare at people during concerts but damned if I didn’t do it this time. I don’t know if the rustler saw me or not, but she stopped rustling. I am not normally the enforcer type. Normally I am the sit and stew silently and then complain about it later when assured of a sympathetic audience type. But I reached my limit with that plastic bag.
Anyhow. The performance itself wasn’t half bad. I had been curious to hear Majeski again since I heard her as Vitellia in Chicago last spring. She didn’t disappoint. I don’t love all aspects of her voice – I don’t get arrested by the sound, exactly – but with the first phrases of “porgi, amor” in Act II I had that feeling of something clicking: there was definitely something interesting in that. I was also impressed by Marlis Petersen (Susanna). When I first heard her in Act I, her voice sounded almost mezzo-ish to me (an impression that was corrected once an actual mezzo, Isabel Leonard, showed up as Cherubino), which I found I liked. And “deh, vieni” in Act IV was one of the highlights of the evening. Peter Mattei’s count was also worth hearing.
I have listened to this opera, let’s say one or two times before, and I am sometimes surprised how it never gets old. The funny parts are funny every single time. And hearing it live every so often is a good way to check in with it, so to speak. One ends up enjoying odd little things, like the way the harpsichord continuo sounds in a big auditorium (harpsichord player: Robert Morrison) or little details of the orchestration that leap out in odd ways depending on where in the hall you are sitting. Visually, this production, by Richard Eyre, is interesting enough but not one that demands analysis. The Almavivas appear to live inside a large clock sometime in the 1930s. I think the rotating, filigreed structure with round interior rooms was in fact an attempt to go for “Moorish” but the result was much closer to “clock.” But “clock” is an acceptable concept too, I guess. And the thing had a visual fluidity that prevented the action from ever really stopping. Some moments in the drama, like Figaro’s “non più andrai” at the end of Act I, didn’t have as much edge as one might want – this felt like a polished but fairly safe performance, both visually and musically, that wasn’t out to push anyone’s buttons.